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Feds sue landlord of longtime Berkeley pot dispensary

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Federal prosecutors have filed a lawsuit attempting to seize property leased to one of California's oldest medical marijuana dispensaries, a rare step in the ongoing battle over who has authority over such facilities.

The forfeiture complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleges that Berkeley Patients Group violated federal law by operating a marijuana dispensary, making the property owner subject to seizure of the space.

The suit also says the dispensary is located within 1,000 feet of two preschools.

The 14-year-old facility's website bills it as "one of California's largest and most respected medical cannabis collectives" that has "provided safe access and fair prices to thousands of Northern California patients."

Berkeley Patients Group changed locations last year after its old landlord received a letter threatening seizure for the same reasons, the Oakland Tribune reported. The facility closed its doors in May and moved down the street, where it reopened at its current spot in December.

Berkeley City Council members Darryl Moore and Laurie Capitelli have recommended a resolution opposing the federal government's forfeiture action.

"The U.S. Attorney is ignoring the will of the people and continues to attack licensed dispensaries operating in compliance with all state and local laws," the proposal states. "The U.S. Attorney's current forfeiture action against BPG victimizes its patients, many of them Berkeley residents, who rely on it to provide the medication that they most desperately need."

The suit is similar to one filed last year against Harborside Health Center, the nation's largest pot dispensary, located in Oakland. That case has yet to be resolved.

Supporters of the Berkeley Patients Group planned a news conference Wednesday in Berkeley. The facility's chief operations officer, Sean Luse, said in a statement that "Berkeley Patients Group intends to vigorously defend the rights of its patients to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, city-licensed dispensary."

News of the lawsuit came days after the California Supreme Court gave local governments authority to zone medical marijuana dispensaries out of existence, in effect upholding bans in about 200 cities.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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